Helen Selfridge Clucas
September 15, 1923 December 26, 2019
Helen Clucas was a rarity, following a career path that was unusual for women of her generation. She earned an advanced degree in mathematics when few women were graduating from college, worked as a Rosie the Riveter during WWII, and taught college math for 30 years.
Yet there was another side to her, beyond her career, for which she was even more passionate. Helen was born on an orange ranch in Fullerton, California. Her parents owned an electrical contracting business and an electric appliance store. The store (Selfridge Electric) was on Spadra Road (Harbor Blvd.) in downtown Fullerton from the 1930s into the 1950s.
She graduated from Fullerton High School in 1941 and received her associate's degree from Fullerton College. Helen had planned to attend UC Berkeley to study engineering, but then she met a "tall, good-looking young man" at a DeMolay dance in Santa Ana in March, 1942. The young man, Edward "Ted" Clucas, was born in Nampa, Idaho, but grew up from age eleven in Santa Ana.
With the national war effort building, Helen took a job as a Rosie the Riveter at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, where C-54 airplanes were being built. Around that time, Ted was drafted and began basic training at Camp Roberts near Paso Robles. After finishing basic, Ted was sent to Indiana University for a special training program in engineering.
From Bloomington, Ted called Helen asking her to join him and get married. She came east and they were married in a simple ceremony in Bloomington on September 25, 1943.
It was in Bloomington that Helen's career path was set. She had wanted to study engineering, but the university did not allow women in the engineering program.
She decided to study mathematics instead, a decision she later felt was ideal for her. One of her fondest memories at the university was taking a class from Emil Artin, one of the leading mathematicians of the twentieth century.
When Ted was about to head to Europe as part of the 20th Armored Division, Helen came back west and finished her undergraduate math degree at UCLA.
After the war, Helen and Ted moved to Oregon where Helen received her master's degree in mathematics. It was as a graduate student at the University of Oregon that Helen taught her first math class.
Helen and Ted moved back to California, living first in Bakersfield where Helen worked as a social worker for Kern County. They then moved to Fullerton so Ted could get his master's degree in education from Cal State Long Beach.
After Ted graduated, they moved to Manteca, where Ted worked as a teacher at Manteca High School and Helen worked as a mathematician for the Department of the Army at Sharpe Depot.
When Ted was offered a job in the Santa Ana schools, they jumped at the opportunity. Returning to Orange County, they bought a house in Santa Ana, where they had their three children. A few months after their youngest child was born in 1958, they moved to a house in Orange, where Helen lived until her passing sixty-one years later.
In the early 1960s, Helen returned to the classroom, working as a substitute, teaching at night school, and then teaching at the Eldorado School, a private school for gifted and talented children.
In 1963, she was hired in the Mathematics Department at Fullerton College, where she remained until 1993. She earned her PhD in Education at USC in 1972.
One of Helen's great passions was in encouraging young women to pursue careers in math and science. After retiring, she volunteered with the Orange County chapter of Graduate Women in Science, including serving as its president. She created the Wilber & Ellen Selfridge Memorial Mathematics Scholarship at Fullerton College, named for her parents, to which memorial contributions would be welcome. The award is for an outstanding female student studying mathematics.
Yet her greatest passion was not in the classroom, but her family. She and Ted were married for almost 72 years when he passed away in 2015. Throughout all those years, they remained deeply in love. She was a caring and inspirational mother, and a loving grandmother.
With her family, she spent many summers camping in the Rocky Mountains, many winter breaks visiting Mexico and the California desert, and many weekends fishing on a Skipjack out of Dana Point Harbor. She will be dearly missed.
She was 96. Survivors include her three children (Jean Clucas Cory, Robert Clucas, and Richard Clucas), her two daughters-in-law (Geri and Beth), her son-in-law (Dennis Cory), and three grandchildren (Nathaniel, Alexander, and Jack).
There will be a viewing at Fairhaven Memorial Cemetery on Saturday, January 25, from 11 am to 1 pm. The memorial service will follow at 1 pm in the Waverly Chapel at the cemetery.
Published in Orange County Register on Jan. 22, 2020.